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Holiday traditions: Collingswood families celebrate the season in variety of ways

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Rich Renner, a Collingswood Book Festival volunteer organizer, has lived in the borough that is dissected by quaint shops and fine dining on Haddon Avenue for three decades. And even in a town filled with organized festive events, he boasts his personal holiday season stretches before Collingswood’s traditional tip-off with the Christmas Tree Lighting on Black Friday.

“As for holiday traditions, Halloween is an important time of year for us,” Renner said. “It’s our wedding anniversary, so we tend to be in celebration mode from (Halloween) through December, which is also our child’s birth month.

“Family is very important to us and is at the center of our holiday celebrations. Most (family) live out of town, so typically we are away for those celebrations,” Renner added. “Certainly, the tree lighting and parade are highlights.”

In cheery Collingswood, the Christmas Season lights up the day after Thanksgiving each year with the tree lighting. Then, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the annual Collingswood Holiday Parade will ring through town for the 31st year.

So, of course, these enticing events are popular holiday traditions for many, but the Renner family also is proud of its own traditions.

“A few years ago we did the Philly Alzheimer’s Walk in honor of my wife’s uncle, and we’re hoping to make that an annual tradition,” Renner said. “‘My hobbies include writing and photography, so I try to make our holiday card something unusual every year.”

Michele Zeldner, who raised her family in Collingswood, is also an organizer of the super successful Book Festival for the past 17 years. So, she is familiar with the energy and excitement that can pack and pulsate Haddon Avenue with delighted visitors.

 “We used to go to the tree lighting and I think they have a Menorah Lighting now too, which is kind of neat, and we would go to the parade,” said Zeldner, who added, “we had a big family, I had four kids so there’s a lot going on all the time.”

Although he embraces the tree lighting, Commissioner Rob Lewandowski also enjoys time during the holidays at home.

“For the past 16 years, as long as I have had children, my wife Barbara and I have spent Christmas Eve, early Christmas morning, wrapping presents and always watching the 1951 edition of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim,” said Lewandowski. “It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Rudolph, Love Actually, A Christmas Carol – it is amazing how much of our holiday experience is shaped by the films and TV we watch and cherish.”

The three-decade old Holiday Parade is rather cinematic, too. 

“It’s nice for people to get together as a community,” Zeldner continued about the holiday events on Haddon Avenue. “You go down the avenue and you see all the people you know. It’s pretty cool.”

Collingswood is also starting a new event called Deck The Lawn, which will be the town’s first residential holiday decorating contest.

And, Collingswood’s first Holly Jolly Trolley will give tours each Friday in December to check out the decorated homes. 

Sidra Hobbs-Fernie, also an organizer of the Collingswood Book Festival, certainly enjoys seeing the cheer continuing to spread on Haddon Avenue with more events during the holiday season. 

“Now that my husband and I have made it into our 80s, we have passed all the holiday festivities on to the next generations,” Hobbs-Fernie said. “We love getting together with our family and extended families.”

KEVIN CALLAHAN
KEVIN CALLAHAN
Kevin, a published author of three novels, is in his 36th year writing sports, travel and outdoor stories, focusing in and around South Jersey and Philadelphia. After 33 years writing for the Courier Post, the 58-year-old embarked on a freelance writing career with the release of his trilogy – The Black Rose, The Fish Finder and The Chess Game in 2017.

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